So, You Want to Defund the Police? Start by Busting the Police Union

All around the world, people are waking up to the idea that the criminal justice system has been designed to brutalize and punish black and brown individuals—from videos of black men and women dying at the hands of police officers, to tear gas and other human right abuses being levied at protestors demanding solutions to police brutality—the system of police is not meant for the oppressed class. Defunding and demilitarizing them is only the first step for the realization of abolition; but how do we begin to understand the power behind the police? 

Short answer, it’s their union.

Long answer, it’s the power that the police unions over the years have been able to amass, even at the backing of major labor organizations (most disappointingly, being on part of the labor council by the AFL-CIO). The influence that they wield when making policy recommendations and funding politicians really should not be ignored. If we are looking toward defunding as the first steps in the goal of abolition, then the potential backlash from cop unions and their supporters should be researched, analyzed and dismantled before they can halt the movement towards defunding.

Already, we are seeing leaders of cop unions attempting to tamper down criticism by creating even more scandal for themselves and revealing the racism that is so deeply ingrained in the system of policing and the criminal justice system. The head of a Baltimore police union called Black Lives Matter protesters a “lynch mob”. In Philadelphia, another referred to demonstrators as “a pack of rabid animals”. A democratically elected black prosecutor in St. Louis is a “menace to society” who must be removed- “by force” if necessary, because she was in favor of police reform. And yet another union president, in NYC (where police have been absolute murderous with protesters), begged to not be treated, “like animals”. They’re attempting to put a stop to any reforms—no matter how small and miniscule—and they’re powerful enough to stop them. One single police union has spent more than $1 million on state and local races in 2014.

Police unions are the strongest and most powerful unions in the country. Their ability to negotiate contracts that give them almost full immunity when their members harm and kill someone is abhorrent, “Typically, such contracts are chock full of special protections that are negotiated behind closed doors. Employment contract provisions also insulate police from any meaningful accountability for their actions and rig any processes hearings in their favor; fired cops are able to appeal and win their jobs back, even after the most egregious offenses. When Daniel Pantaleo, an NYPD officer who was involved in the 2014 murder of Eric Garner, was finally fired, the police union immediately appealed for his reinstatement and threatened a work slowdown.” 

It is time for all labor organizations, no matter how small, to not only condemn the violence of the police force but actively work to dismantle an institution that’s history is stained with the blood of the working class and immigrants. As noted in Kim Kelly’s impassioned article, “No More Cop Unions”, the history of police violence has been against workers during strikes or at protests, “Despite their union membership, police have also been no friend to workers, especially during strikes or protests. Their purpose is to protect property, not people, and labor history is littered with accounts of police moonlighting as strikebreakers or charging in to harass or injure striking workers. The first recorded strike fatalities in U.S. history came at the hands of police, who shot two New York tailors dead as they tried to disperse. During the Battle of Blair Mountain, the police fought striking coal miners on the bosses’ behalf. In 1937, during the Little Steel Strike, Chicago police gunned down 10 striking steelworkers in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. In 1968, days after Dr. Martin Luther King addressed a group of sanitation workers, Memphis cops maced and assaulted the striking workers and their supporters, killing a 16-year-old boy.” The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumpka, a former president of United Mineworkers of America harshly criticized the police for engaging in violence against striking minors. 

The AFL-CIO is now facing calls to disaffiliate from its association with the International Union of Police Associates (representing over 100,000 law enforcement employees as well as emergency personnel) from 21 council members from the Writers Guild of America East, citing the policies and the actions of the police union as being consistent with, “authoritarianism, totalitarianism, terrorism and other forces that suppress individual liberties and freedoms.” The AFL-CIO has already disaffiliated from other unions in the past, including the Teamsters, SEIU, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The federation has already disaffiliated some powerful unions, so it has the potential to kick out an organization that has no business calling itself a union. 

This is but one step in demanding the end of police violence and terror; this is but one piece of an interlocking system that needs to be collapsed, but it will be a preemptive strike in the already powerful attempt to squash legitimate demands to doing away with police.

If you are a union member, or someone interested in demanding the end of AFL-CIO’s association with the International Union of Police Associations, please sign this petition from No Cop Unions. Please also encourage your union local to condemn the violence against protesters or issue a statement in support of Blacks Lives. Solidarity means solidarity with the workers and all oppressed members of society, not solidarity with the muscle of the state and the capitalists. 

Workers of the World Unite! We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Chains!

(Photo 1 Credit: ABC News) (Photo 2 Credit: The Guardian / Star Tribune)